If you don’t know Sarah Jones, it’s about time you get familiar. The multi-hyphenate performer (seriously — she’s a playwright, actor, poet, TED speaker and UNICEF ambassador) has been changing the entertainment game for over a decade, and she’s not slowing down anytime soon. Jones took the theater world by storm in 2004 with her Tony and Obie Award-winning one-woman play Bridge & Tunnel — a tour de force exploration of New York City’s diverse immigrant population in which Jones performed monologues of over a dozen characters. More recently, her play Sell/Buy/Date served as a bold look at the variety of people affected by the sex industry.
Not only are Jones’ spot-on impersonations SNL-worthy, her work displays a unique blend of performance art and social justice action. If you need further proof of her talents, Jones brought down the house at #BlogHer Health 2019 in Los Angeles last week during a special performance, and of course, she brought her multicultural cast of characters along with her. In true Jones fashion, she kicked off her speech by speaking in a posh British accent (she’s from Queens, New York, by the way). From there, she launched into taking on the identities of everyone from an elderly woman named Lorraine Levine to Nereida, who’s “half Dominican, half Puerto Rican, all proud.”
— BlogHer (@BlogHer) January 26, 2019
Jones was also presented with a Voices of the Year award for her influential social advocacy. Hmm, perhaps she should have taken home more than one considering how many voices she actually uses. SheKnows was honored to chat with Jones further about her career, her motivation and where’s she’s going next. (Spoiler: Big things are on the horizon.) So, how did she discover she was ridiculously talented? Well, those voices came to her more naturally than you might think.
“I think like a lot of people from multicultural backgrounds and my community, it was very normal, so I didn’t think of it as extraordinary. I just thought of it as how I communicate. Oh, if I wanna get fed, I better learn how to talk to all of these relatives!” Jones told us with a laugh.
“I think I realized that I was the only one who was going to authentically care about my story and that if I wanted to reach people who were like me, feeling marginalized, I was going to have to do it myself. And I’m really grateful that there were examples of other people — other women, other people of color — who kind of got the message early on. It was like, ‘Oh, if I want to see myself represented, I’m the one who’s gonna have to do that,” she said of what prompted her to make her own show happen.
Jones said that balancing the ideas of art and social justice isn’t always easy, admitting the way she manages it all is “imperfectly.” But she also realizes that this moment is calling for people like her and that sometimes it’s better to laugh to keep from crying.
“There are times when the moment we’re living in from a social justice standpoint is so bleak and so painful, the only thing I can do is find the humor to survive it. And that is my act of a revolutionary kind of contribution. I want people to leave feeling like no matter what the landscape looks like, they are intrinsically valuable, and their voice not only matters but is necessary to the larger ecosystem of who we all are — so to cling as stubbornly as possible to who they are in the midst of it. And I have to say, nothing helps you hold on like being able to bond over the absurdity and what’s funny, even in these painful times,” she explained of the messages she wants people to take away from her shows.
Jones’ professional trajectory came about with the help of a name you might recognize — Meryl Streep. Streep was an early supporter of hers and was even a producer on Bridge & Tunnel. When we asked Jones about Streep’s secrets (tell us her magical ways!) and what the legendary Oscar-winner taught her, she hit us with some serious words of wisdom, revealing, “I think the best secret about Meryl is that she has no secrets. She’s not mysterious. She’s exactly what you hear and see. And she puts her feminist big-girl pants on every morning one leg at a time. She really is no different from the rest of us. I think that’s what she taught me.”
If you’re wondering where you can check out Jones up next, she’s currently working on a documentary series titled She the People.
“The quick version is that [it’s] the same journey I’ve had the privilege of taking around the country and around the world — to meet people and to hear their stories and try to bring them to the stage,” Jones described the project. “Instead of just doing that research and just having audiences see the result in my performances, I want to bring them with me behind the scenes and [to] kind of talk about the issues that matter to all of us.”
As Jones keeps making waves in an evolving entertainment industry that is beginning to become more inclusive, she hopes “that people don’t get confused into the illusion that all of a sudden everything is completely different.”
“Just because we’re seeing a lot of progress and we’re happy about that doesn’t mean we are anywhere near the kind of equality we all know makes sense,” she added.
It’s hard to see the future of the industry right now, but one thing’s for sure. If anyone is going to help make progress and challenge peoples’ perceptions, it’s definitely Jones.